EC fines six LCD panel makers €649 million for price-fixing

The European Commission (EC) has fined six LCD panel makers a total of €649 million ($857 million) for price-fixing.

The companies are Samsung, LG, AU Optronics, Chimei InnoLux, Chunghwa Picture Tubes and HannStar Display, all of which operated a cartel between  October 2001 and February 2006. Around 60 consultations, dubbed “the Crystal meetings”, were held between the companies over this period where they agreed price ranges and minimum prices.

It was revealed that the companies knew their actions were illegal and that they attempted to cover up their actions. Warnings about keeping the matter confidential were circulated, citing the DRAM investigation that began in 2002.

The fines total €648,925,000 ($857 million), divided between the six companies, but reductions to the penalties have also been given, so the fine would have been significantly higher otherwise.

Samsung got the biggest reduction of 100 percent due to leniency rules in the EU. It gained immunity by reporting the cartel to the EC in the first place and providing valuable information that was required to prove the illegal actions of the companies in question. So it has been behaving badly, screwing the competition and getting off scot free.

LG, AU Optronics and Chunghwa Picture Tubes also received reduced fines of 50 percent, 20 percent and 5 percent respectively due to their co-operation with the Commission. LG also received a full reduction of its penalty for the year 2006 for being the first company to supply information the cartel carried on beyond 2005, the year it was originally believed to have ended.

The individual fines are nil for Samsung, €215 million ($284 million) for LG, €116.8 million ($154 million) for AU Optronics, €300 million ($396 million) for Chimei InnoLux, €9.025 million ($12 million) for Chunghwa Picture Tubes, and €8.1 million ($11 million) for HannStar Display.

“Foreign companies, like European ones, need to understand that if they want to do business in Europe they must play fair,” said Joaquín Almunia, Vice President of Competition Policy in the EC. “The companies concerned knew they were breaking competition rules and took steps to conceal their illegal behaviour. The only understanding we will show is for those that come forward to denounce a cartel and help prove its existence.”